Emily Barker

The artist and disability advocate on milking the algorithm, the oppression of normalcy, and the privilege of a really relaxing high.


This interview originally appeared in Volume Six of our magazine. Order your copy here.

First and foremost, I’m an artist. I have a disability. I’m chronically ill. I’m an occasional model. And I also do a whole lot of trying to survive within a system that would prefer if I were dead. 

I left home at 17 to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was while I was attending school there that my accident happened. I changed from being an oil painter to doing more conceptual, installation-based works after spilling turpentine on my crotch too many times and getting really frustrated with the process of painting from a wheelchair, like not being able to stretch my own canvases or make my own stretcher boards. I was simultaneously fascinated and appalled at the lack of discourse around disability in the art world, in design, and in conceptual art and art installation. So I pivoted to making art about that.